As a trio of women is set to ascend to the top of one of the world’s most powerful oil-trading operations, the gender gap in the rest of the industry remains stark.
Royal Dutch Shell Plc has promoted Stacie Pitts, Carolyn Comer and Alice Acuna to lead three of the five biggest trading businesses in the company. It follows London-based rival BP Plc, which earlier this year appointed Carol Howle to lead its giant trading and shipping unit.
Their promotions are notable in an industry where women remain under-represented, particularly when it comes to the top jobs.
“Twenty years ago, when I started on the trading floor I was one of the few women working in this industry,” Pitts, who will head crude trading, said. “It is so encouraging to see the progress we’re making on diversity, and our leadership talent developing in the company.”
While European Big Oil has made strides in addressing its gender imbalance at the top, in rival trading houses there remains a stark absence of women in executive roles. Further down the hierarchy, both in majors and in merchants, men outstrip women in trading roles.
Shell’s new trading leadership team will be fully in place by the third quarter of 2021. The appointments are seen as the promotion of rising stars with a track record of building teams, according to colleagues, rivals and headhunters. Pitts had a reputation as a strong trader as well as a good manager — a rare combination in the industry.
Pitts is currently general manager for global gasoline, one of the companies’ most important trading positions. Comer, who’s from Ireland, has a career spanning two decades with positions in global marine fuels and most recently as VP downstream strategy and portfolio. Acuna, a native of Paraguay who studied at Oxford, has worked in downstream, strategy and trading since joining Shell in 1996. The three of them will be joined by ex-Navy officer Karrie Trauth who will head shipping.
At BP, which trades more oil than its merchant rivals, Howle’s leadership team is made up of another six people, two of which are women. That includes Sharon Weintraub, who in July became head of international gas and power trading. One rung down in the leadership ladder sit 43 employees, of which one third are women.
Oil-trading units are key to European oil major’s financial wellbeing, often bringing in torrents of cash even when prices are falling. Shell and France’s Total SE were saved from quarterly losses earlier this year thanks to trading, even as prices turned negative in the U.S.
Men dominate the top roles in trading houses. Azerbaijan’s Socar Trading SA stands out for having a woman as a CEO, Mariam Almaszade, who took the helm in 2018, while Mercuria’s Hong Zhu is one of the firm’s founding members. But such examples are rare.
Industry titans Vitol Group and Trafigura Group have not a single woman among their top executives. Still, Trafigura Group promoted Hannah Hauman to head of crude oil Europe, and also employs senior oil trading veteran Wendy Moss, whose role is Head of Strategic Management Group. Its oil and products trading division is 22% female, but this includes non-trading jobs. At Gunvor Group, Muriel Schwab is chief financial officer, and there are two female heads of desks.
Neither BP nor Shell provide gender breakdowns of jobs across divisions, but both have stated in their U.K. diversity pay gap reports that trading roles are predominately held by men, which results in greater bonus-pay disparity between men and women.
“Of course, there’s more to do on all aspects of diversity,” said Pitts.